Merlot Mashed Potatoes

When I was in culinary school I had an instructor who told us about a party he catered where the theme of the party was potatoes. Sounds strange I know, but if memory serves me right he explained that they served a variety of different potatoes and flavor profiles. Among the flavors I can recall were: potatoes with corned beef & cabbage, potatoes with three cheeses, potatoes with Bailey’s Irish Cream, and merlot mashed potatoes. After class that day my classmates and I were talking about the different potatoes and strategized the endless possibilities of how we could make them. I set myself on a mission to try the Merlot Mashed Potatoes, because to me they sounded lusciously rich and I envisioned them with the most beautiful hue. After many tries I have come to a recipe that s not only delicious, but fabulous as well.

Two pounds of yukon gold potatoes.

Two pounds of yukon gold potatoes.

This brings me to the first Thanksgiving after I graduated from Culinary School. I had not visited New Jersey or our families in quite some time, so Brian and I packed a bag and my knives and off we went. I was going to cook a Thanksgiving meal for our family…all twelve of them. I composed a menu of many snacks, appetizers, soup, and then the traditional turkey meal with many fixings. Of course on the menu were these Merlot Mashed Potatoes. Being that they were different, the morning of Thanksgiving my dad asked: “Are you sure you want to make these? We usually make regular potatoes.” My mother insisted I did not have enough potatoes (with all the courses – snacks – appetizers) and sat there after I peeled the potatoes and had them in a pot, peeling more and stating “There are twelve people coming to dinner. You need more potatoes!” There are some battles I have chosen in life not to crusade in, this was one of them. I let me mother cook more potatoes, I just had to adjust my seasoning.

Stirring in the Merlot reduction.

Stirring in the Merlot reduction.

As we all sat down to the table to eat our Thanksgiving meal, the food started making its way around the table. Once the Merlot Mashed Potatoes began their rotation I heard Oohs and Aahs. When they reached my Uncle Frank (my mother’s brother) I heard him exclaim, “What is up with these potatoes? Why are they pink?!?” I chuckled to myself, and we all began to eat. Everyone ate everything! Everyone loved everything! The one dish that everyone complimented the most…the Merlot Mashed Potatoes. Even my father-in-law (a man of very few words) said to me: “Danielle, those potatoes were so good.” That is when I knew I had a really valuable recipe on my hands. My family was super pleased and my mother knew then that more than enough potatoes were made, as we had a big bowl of the potatoes still on the table!

This year I will be making the Merlot Mashed Potatoes again, and I will be missing my family as I enjoy them. We will be enjoying our Holiday here in Seattle, my family will be in New Jersey, and my In-laws will be in Maine. Maybe they will make the Merlot Mashed Potatoes for themselves? Anything is possible. I will be thinking of all of them as I enjoy our meal. Maybe we will all be side by side at a table for a Thanksgiving in the years to come?  I hope you all have a wonderful Holiday and make many memories of your own. I have so many that make me smile and I revel in them every year.

Finished Merlot Mashed Potatoes. (I will be honest, this picture is a bit dark. it tends to look a bit lighter in huge when they are done.)

Finished Merlot Mashed Potatoes. (I will be honest, this picture is a bit dark. it tends to look a bit lighter in huge when they are done.)

Merlot Mashed Potatoes (Serves 6)

***NOTES: These potatoes can easily be made ahead of time and reheated for serving. When I do this I make the potatoes a bit creamier than I normally would as they dry out a bit in the reheating process. An extra spoonful of sour cream or heavy cream works just fine. I also store the potatoes in a shallow dish letting the reheating to take only about 15 minute in 350 degree oven when covered with foil. 

2 pounds of yukon gold potatoes

3 tbsp of butter (unsalted)

1/4 cup sour cream

1/4 – 1/3 cup of heavy cream

1 1/2 cup of Merlot wine

sea salt and fresh black pepper, to taste

First, clean your potatoes well and cut them into even pieces. (Even pieces leads to even cooking time for all of them.) I usually cut my potatoes into four to six pieces depending on their size. I also leave the skins on. The skins of the yukon gold potatoes are thin, break down easily, and add flavor.

Next, place the potatoes in a pot with enough cold water over them by at least one inch. I also add about 1 tbsp of sea salt to the water. Place the pot over a medium to high heat and bring to a simmer. Let it all cook until the potatoes are pierced easily with a knife. Remove from the pot from the heat and strain the water from the potatoes.

Meanwhile, place your wine in a small pan and bring to a simmer. You are looking to reduce the wine to a 1/3 or 1/4 of a cup. I let the wine simmer about 15 – 18 minutes to get this result.

Then, proceed with the potatoes with how you like to mash them. You can use an electric beater, stand mixer, hand masher, food mill, or ricer…what ever you wish. I personally like a food mili. I place it over my bowl and work the potatoes through the finest holes until all is processed through and mashed. To the potatoes I add the butter and sour cream and stir them until it is incorporated. I then add the cream, stirring in a little at a time until you get the constancy you prefer.

Finally, add in the Merlot reduction. mixing until completely even and not streaky. Season the potatoes with sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste. Serve warm.


Our Martini.

In December of 2009 my sister called me to tell me our father had just fainted and was being rushed to the hospital. I was living in Phoenix at this time, and my sister, along with my parents, were in New Jersey. At the time she called I was just finishing up my baking for the day as I was working in a local coffee shop. A few phone calls later I knew that he was in the hospital, his blood pressure was dropping, and they were trying to find the source of it all. I woke early the next morning (4 AM) to get the baking done at work. While I had just put muffins in the oven my mother called to tell me the outlook of my father’s health and life was looking grim. He was very weak, had several blood transfusions through the night, and a surgery was scheduled for that afternoon.

Up to that point in my life, those were the worst phone calls I had ever experienced. I tried to stay strong, but I was thousands of miles away and felt so helpless and useless. My husband and I waited and waited by the phone until my mother called back saying that my father was stable. His health was not the greatest for a while; but a major surgery and a few months of chemo later, he was much better. We were extremely fortunate.


My Father walking in a park on my last visit to New Jersey. (April 2015)

A few weeks ago I was preparing to travel to Costa Rica. Brian was there on a business trip, and I was to meet him after a few days. I had arrangements made for someone to watch our girls (Martini and Latte), I made sure things were situated in the kitchen at work, I packed my bag, and took a flight out to meet Brian. While we were there, in the middle of a rain forest on the Pacific Coast, we received a phone call from our pet sitter. She said Martini was not eating, not walking, and seemed to be in pain. We agreed that Martini need to see a doctor, and she took her to a vet hospital. We waited by the phone for some word about Martini. Not much different than that phone call about my father six years prior to tell you the truth. Unfortunately, the outlook for Martini was not as positive as my father’s. Vacation was no longer a “vacation”. Again, I was way too far away from someone I loved, at a point in time when they were very ill.

Martini about four months old. She was so tiny and cute.

Martini about three and a half months old. She was so tiny and cute. (March 2002)

As soon as we landed in the states we picked up our belongings and headed to the vet hospital. After sitting with Martini, talking with the doctors and staff, we made a very difficult decision to lay her down in eternal rest. Many tears were shed, our energy was drained, and after it was done we picked up our suit cases and headed home. A week went by and our home was so quiet. We tried to keep a normal routine, I owed it to Latte who was missing Martini too. But our whole world was off kilter. Night after night I could barley make dinner. One day because I forgot to go food shopping! On another day I went to our local coffee shop to get a coffee with no wallet or money! I also went to work and left my kitchen shoes and phone at home…I was just a bit off and I felt terrible about it. I was stronger than this. I need to pull myself together.

Martini and her sister Latte on one of our daily outings. (May 2015)

Martini and her sister Latte on one of our daily outings. (May 2015)

After a week of forgetfulness, I needed to step up my game. I owed it to Brian and to Latte. So I walked over to the produce stand after work and picked up a few things, and then headed over to one of the fish counters. I purchased some mussels and headed home. I was prepared to make a tradition Belgian Moules Frites. It is something I know Brian loves, easy to cook up, and warming to the heart – just what we needed. So Brian came home and was amazed to see the mussels. When he saw the fries come out of the oven he grinned. When all was done (the dish of mussels took a total of 15 minutes) we sat and dinned. We told stories of Martini. The whole evening made me smile. It may have not been the greatest circumstances that lead to this meal, but the meal was great. I know Martini would have approved! For those who may ask, Latte is doing well. (She watched me patiently as I cooked this meal.)

Moules Frites

Moules Frites

Moules Frites (serves 4)

**NOTE: This dish Is traditionally served with a mayo of sorts for dipping, or to add to your broth. We personally like to make a garlicy one. One clove of garlic, minced and whisked with 1/4 cup of mayo and the juice of half a lemon. 

2 pounds of Mussels, cleaned and de-bearded

1 cup of celery, thinly sliced

1 cup onion, chopped small

2 tbsp of butter, unsalted

1 tbsp of herbs d’ Provence

3/4 cup dry white wine

2 – 3 russet potatoes (depending on size)

olive oil (about 1/4 cup)

Sea Salt to taste

First, preheat your oven to 400 degrees. Wash our potatoes well, and dry them. Carefully slice your potatoes in about 1/4 – 1/2 inch by 1/4 – 1/2 inch thick sticks. The length of the sticks can vary depending on the size of your potatoes. After all of your potatoes are sliced, place them in a bowl and toss them in the olive oil. Have one to two sheet pans lined with parchment paper. place the potatoes sparingly apart. Sprinkle them with sea salt and place them in the oven. Bake them about 20 minutes before stirring them and placing them back in the oven to crisp up – about 15 – 20 minutes more (depending on your oven).

Next, place a large sauté pan (that has a tight fitting lid) over medium heat and melt the butter. Once the butter is melted add your celery and onion and salute about 5 minutes. You are looking for the onion to start to become translucent, and then add the herbs d’ Provence. Stir it all together, and once the herbs become aromatic.

Then, add the mussels to the pan. Stir it well to coat them, and then pour the wine over, place the lid over it all, and let it come to a simmer about 10 minutes. Giving the pan a little shake a couple of times. After ten minutes, remove the lid and check to be sure all the mussels are wide open. Discard any that have remained closed. remove from the heat, and place in a serving bowl.

Finally, remove the potatoes from the oven (aka Frites). Be sure they are crispy and cooked though. Re-season with sea salt if necessary. Serve with your mussels and enjoy.


Cream Braised Cabbage – oh so good!

Quite some time ago I picked up the book “A Homemade Life” by Molly Wizenberg. It is a great quick read that is witty, descriptive, and has a casual approach to her life and recipes. I throughly enjoyed it and have given a bunch of the recipes in it a try and we’ve not had a complaint with them yet.

The other day I picked up the book and thumbed through it to find her recipe on Banana Bread (my husband and I love it), when I happened to catch a glimpse of one of the other recipes in there for Cream Braised Cabbage. I remembered reading and loving the sound of it, but alas, there is only so much time and way too many recipes! Although, as luck should have it there was a small head of cabbage in my refrigerator! Well, well, well – it was going to be a fun filled night of braising cabbage. Yes, I know…there are some things that do not sound exciting to most, but to me this is thrilling.

Cabbage, crowded in the pan and ready to be seared.

Cabbage, crowded in the pan and ready to be seared. (My cabbage was a bit large and I could only fit 7 wedges into my pan!)

Why? You see the days have started to really feel like fall around here. The air is cool and breezy. Days are growing shorter, and that funny thing called rain has been showing up. It is the perfect timing for a braised dish. One that simmers away at a slow pace making what you are cooking tender to a fork, velvety to your tongue, and rich on your pallet in a way that other cooking technique could ever do. Braising anything warms my kitchen and my soul. Yes! Cream Braised Cabbage you are perfect.

Seared and braising away with the cream.

Seared and braising away with the cream.

Now I know some might look at the cooking time and say this is not a mid week dinner, but think again. Besides the the turning of the cabbage while it sears, and again while it braises, it gives you free hands to do what you like. Just an occasion check on the cabbage as needed. In the mean time I steamed some veggies to serve along side, folded laundry, made a salad and set the table. Wala! Dinner was ready. As I said the cabbage is fork tender and the cream makes it luscious. I paired it with some steamed carrots and boiled, little red potatoes sprinkled with a bit of thyme. (But I think this would pair extremely well with some seared pork chops or roasted chicken too.) It was just what a fall evening of lightly drizzling rain called for. I have said it before and I will say it again…this recipe is a must try. It will make you swoon over its tender braising perfection.

Tender and sweet braised cabbage. Plated with veggies on the side.

Tender and sweet braised cabbage. Plated with veggies on the side.

Cream Braise Green Cabbage (serves 4-6)

From the book: “A Homemade Life” 

1 small head of green cabbage (about 1 1/2 lbs)

3 tbsp (1 1/2 oz) of unsalted butter

1/4 tsp salt, plus more to taste

2/3 cup of heavy cream

1 tbsp of fresh lemon juice

First, pull away any outer leaves of your cabbage. trim the root end and and wash well to remove any dirt. Cut the cabbage into quarters, and then cut each quarter in half lengthwise, keeping a bit of the core with each wedge you cut. Try to keep them in equal sizes.

Next, place a large 12 inch skillet over medium high heat to melt the butter. Add the cabbage wedges, arranging them in a single crowded layer with one cut side down against the skillet. Do not disturb the cabbage and keep them this way for about 5 minutes until the down side is well seared and brown. (The browning is the caramelization of the vegetable and gives it a lightly sweet flavor.)

Then, using a a pair of thongs gently turn your wedges to the other cut side to sear. When that side sears like the other you may sprinkle the 1/4 tsp of salt over the wedges, and then add the cream to the pan. Cover the pan with a tight fitting lid and reduce the heat to low. You are looking for the liquid to stay at a slow and gentle simmer. Let it cook for 20 minutes, remove the lid and turn the wedges with tongs and repeat again for another 20 minutes with the lid on. The cabbage will be tender and can easily be pierced with a sharp knife. Add the lemon juice and shake the pan so that it evenly distributes.

Finally, let the pan simmer a few minutes to let the liquid in the pan thicken a bit. The cream should be able to coat the cabbage in a loose glaze like way. Serve immediately with additional salt for others to add.

NYT Creamy Mac and Cheese

Last year, while trolling the internet I came across a recipe from The New York Times for Mac and Cheese. It claimed that it was the creamiest and cheesiest Mac and Cheese out there. At first I was shocked that I was only discovering the recipe right then and there. You see the NYT published the recipe years prior. I quickly read through the recipe and thought it was a lot of cheese (but who doesn’t like cheese???). Reading further I was even more interested because you bake the whole dish…no prior pasta cooking needed. I have always wanted to give one of these one pot pasta dishes a try. That was it, I was on a mission to make it.

So on a cool day last year I through the ingredients together and in the oven it went. (Uncooked pasta and all.) After it was done baking I pulled it out of the oven to cool. I was mesmerized by the way bubbled and stared at it’s steam escaping as it rested on my stove top. I found it hard to resist, because I desperately wanted to dive a fork in at that moment. I prevailed I used my will power and held out until it had cooled.

Mac and Cheese cooling out of the oven .

Mac and Cheese cooling out of the oven .

The result – it was fabulous! It was tender, cheesy, creamy, deeply flavorful, and the top of it created this fanatic cheesy crust giving it the right amount of texture. I have told so many others about this recipe and the ones who have tried it out report back on how great they think it is as well. I personally like to pair this with a simple green salad or some steamed veggies. You do not want to pair it with anything too boldly flavored given the richness of this cheesy dish. That aside, I have made this twice this past month. The left overs have been just as good! This is quite possibly my go to Mac and Cheese recipe from now on!

Cooled and ready to eat! Oh so good!!!

Cooled and ready to eat! Oh so good!!!

Creamy Mac and Cheese (Serves 6)

*As published in The New York Times

2 tablespoons butter

1 cup cottage cheese (not low fat)

2 cups milk (not skim)

1 teaspoon dry mustard

Pinch cayenne

Pinch freshly grated nutmeg

½ teaspoon salt

¼ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound sharp or extra-sharp cheddar cheese, grated

½ pound elbow pasta, uncooked (I have had success with whole wheat pasta as well)


First, heat oven to 375 degrees and position an oven rack in upper third of oven. Use

one tablespoon butter to butter a 9-inch round or square baking pan. (I tend to use a

ceramic 9 inch pie dish)

Next, in a blender, purée cottage cheese, milk, mustard, cayenne, nutmeg and salt and

pepper together. Reserve ¼ cup grated cheese for topping. In a large bowl, combine

remaining grated cheese, milk mixture and uncooked pasta. Pour into prepared pan,

cover tightly with foil and bake 30 minutes.

Then, uncover pan, stir gently, sprinkle with reserved cheese and dot with remaining

tablespoon butter. Bake, uncovered, 30 minutes more, until browned.

Finally, remove from the oven and let cool at least 15 minutes before serving.

Bruleed Nectarines

I know it has been a while since my last post. Life again has been busy and taken me in several different directions…all not in the way of this blog unfortunately.


Summer is slowly coming to a close. Out of the corner of my eye, on my walk home from work; I spotted an orange leaf on the ground! Yes I know the time is near, but I will take full advantage of the warm sunny days that remain. Basking in some rays and enjoying the fresh air are huge treats. I know in a couple months when us Pacific North Westerners are faced with mist and grey days we will be missing the sun. Although I love days like that, it makes me appreciate the sunshine and breezy days of summer.

The little prep needed to make these!

The little prep needed to make these!

Holding on to late summer has made me rush to the markets to be sure I enjoy every last bit of what remains. Late berries, stone fruits, corn, summer squash…I have been cooking and we have been enjoying it all. With all of this going on, I have been experimenting with different ways to enjoy it all. Of all the possible recipes – Bruleed Nectarines has been most enjoyable and quite possibly could not be simpler! If you have ripe nectarines, sugar, and a broiler you are good to go! I could not think of anything that intensifies the flavor of these summer fruits and keeps their beautiful texture. As they warm up in the broiler, the sugar caramelizes, and the juicy interior of the fruit begins to ooze as you scoop into it. I am telling you, this is so good and a show stopper! If the nectarines are still looking perfect I might have to make this again and invite some friends over to enjoy it with us…Although, I could easily devour it all myself!


Bruleed Nectarines (1/2 – 1 whole nectarine per person)

**Note: This recipe works well with peaches too, but I personally like to peel the peaches first as the skin is a lot tougher than that of a nectarine.

Nectarines, halved and pitted

sugar (I personally like turbinado but white sugar works well too)

First, preheat your broiler on high. I arrange my nectarines in either individual baking dishes they fit into, or I lay them on a gratin type baking dish.

Next, coat the cut portion of your fruit with an even layer of your sugar. be sure you get sugar in the crevice of the pit, but do not fill it up with the sugar. Place the your coated nectarines under the broiler keeping an eye on them. I find with ripe fruit in my oven it takes about 5 minutes. But keep and eye on it. You are looking for the sugar and the edges of the fruit to caramelize and be somewhat golden across the top of your fruit.

Finally, remove from the oven and serve. Be careful as the dishes you use will be very hot, but it best to eat and enjoy these right away. If you let them sit a while the sugar that you caramelized will start to disintegrate!

Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs – A special dessert for Brian.

Every year Brian and I celebrate the anniversary of our first date. Over the years it has become a somewhat of a tradition that I try to make him a special treat, meal, or dessert; this year I contemplated over what that thing should be. When you are with someone as long as we have been (twenty two years) this never gets easier. I always want it to be new…or different than the item I made in the years past.

Brian enjoying a dinner out recently.

Brian enjoying a dinner out recently. Twenty two years and counting!

This year I was off my game. I will admit that from the start. I knew I wanted to make him a dessert. I systematically debated in my head what and how it should be. I tossed around ideas on flavor combos.  Thought of how I could play around with the texture of a few more traditional desserts. I even contemplated what and how these items will be eaten and served. My mind may never be at rest when it comes to food, but that is just me. Finally, to end the rambling consideration in my head I turned to Brian and I asked: “What do you really look for when it comes to a dessert? What favor do you hear and say, Yes That is what I want to eat!!!” He responded with he usual: dark chocolate, creaminess, and I like things tart too! There it was, he said it and it struck a cord: creamy and tart.

I instantly envisioned an eclair cut length wise, with a layer of lemony tartness and topped with another layer of thick vanilla bean pastry cream. I would brush the tops of them with a light lemon sugar glaze. But these eclairs would be made miniature. Any dessert you can make is more fun and exciting to eat when it is made in miniature. It makes for more interaction and conversation to take place too.

Miniture Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs, ready to be enjoyed.

Miniture Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs, ready to be enjoyed.

So the other day when I came home from work I whipped up some mini eclairs, about 4 dozen to be exact. While the pate choux (eclair batter) baked I stood over the stove and stirred my lemon curd and pastry cream, I patiently waited for them to thicken, before I strained and chilled them both. I had them both in the refrigerator chilling when Brian came home and saw the eclair shells on the dinning table. He asked what they were, and I could tell he was trying to resist popping one in his mouth. When I explained it was a surprise for after dinner he grinned. We sat and ate our dinner and cleaned up the kitchen.  When we were done we sat down with cups of tea and I started to fill the little eclairs and glaze them. He observed and asked why the special treat? As always I told him as many years we have been together – you and we deserve a special treat. And we feasted! Popping the little eclairs in our mouths in between sips of tea. We chatted about our day, our jobs, our dogs, and the planning of a future vacation. These little eclairs were zesty with tartness, and the vanilla bean pastry cream mellowed it out just a tad. Having made these in miniature it was a perfect balance of flavor and texture because you got a little bit of everything about this dessert in each bite.

As for twenty two years with Brian? It has been an adventure so far. We have lived together and separately in four different states – in two big cities – lived in separate states for months at a time – numerous apartments – owned a home – owned and ran two businesses – traveled abroad – taken road trips – and yes we are still together! We have taken many roads to get where we are, but that suits us just fine. Twenty two years is a long time, time well spent. We have just done it thus far with especially tasty food and desserts to accompany it all. Personally I think the layers of flavors in this dessert are much like the life we have experiences thus far. They are different but blend well for a delicious outcome.

Latte (our Lab) was admiring the eclairs, and wanted to they one with us.

Latte (our Lab) was admiring the eclairs, and wanted to they one with us.

Zesty Lemon and Vanilla Bean Eclairs (yields 3 – 4 dozen)

***NOTE – the recipe for the Pate Choux make 3 – 4 dozen. The lemon curd and the pastry cream make way more then is needed in this recipe. You can cut those recipes in half if you like, but I like to do the full amount and store the remainder in my refrigerator and find other uses for them in the next couple of days. I always store the extra in air tight sealed containers.

Pate Choux (Eclair Dough)

1/2 cup unsalted butter

1 cup of water

1 tsp sugar

1/2 tsp salt

1 1/4 cup flour

4 eggs, plus one egg white

First, bring butter, sugar, salt, and 1 cup water to a boil in a medium saucepan. Remove from the heat. Using a spoon or spatula, quickly stir in flour. Cook over medium-high heat, stirring constantly, until mixture pulls away from sides and a film forms on bottom of pan, about 3 minutes. It will make a sizzling noise, that is expected. But you are looking for the mixture to be all hydrated and in the form of ball or blob of dough.

Next, transfer the dough to the bowl of an electric mixer fitted with the paddle attachment. Mix on low speed until slightly cooled, about 2 minutes or until you no longer see steam rising from the bowl and the bowl itself is cool to the touch. Raise speed to medium; add your whole eggs, 1 at a time, until a soft peak forms when batter is touched with your finger. If peak does not form, lightly beat remaining egg white, and mix it into batter a little at a time until it does.

Finally, have a pastry bag fitted with a tip no bigger than 1/2 in in diameter.  Have three baking sheets lined with parchment paper and preheat your oven to 375 degrees. Fill the bag with the batter and pipe batter in strait lines no bigger than 2 – 2 1/2 inches long. Space them at least 2 inches apart. Place them in the oven and bake roughly 20 – 25 minutes depending on your oven. Your pate choux should have expanded and at least doubled or more in hight. Once it is golden brown and feels crisp it is ready to be pulled form the oven and cooled.

Vanilla Bean Pastry Cream (Makes about 1 quart)

2 1/4 cup whole milk

6 egg yolks

2/3 cup sugar

1/3 cup corn starch

1 vanilla bean, split and scraped

First, In medium bowl, whisk together 1/2 cup milk, egg yolks, 1/3 cup sugar, and cornstarch.

Next, in a 4 quart pot place the remaining 1 3/4 cups milk along with the scraped seeds from vanilla bean; as well as the pod. Sprinkle remaining 1/3 cup sugar over, letting sugar sink undisturbed to bottom. Place the pan over moderate heat and bring to simmer without stirring.

Then, once the milk and vanilla bean mixture is at a simmer remove from the burner. Temper some of the hot milk mixture gradually into your yolk mixture – whisking it. Combine it all to your hot milk in the pot, and place over moderate heat. Cook it; whisking or stirring it (always to be sure you are touching the bottom of the pot with your whisk or spoon) constantly, until pastry cream simmers and thickens, about 1 minute.

Finally, remove you pot from heat, and strain into a bowl though a fine mesh strainer to remove any lumps. Discard vanilla pod, and whisk cream until smooth. Press plastic wrap directly onto surface of you pastry cream and refrigerate until chilled completely cold, about 4 hours. (Pastry cream can be made ahead and refrigerated, wrapped well with plastic wrap on surface, up to 5 days.)

Lemon Curd (about 1 quart)

1 1/4 fresh lemon juice

12 egg yolks

1 cup sugar

pinch of salt

8 oz unsalted butter, cold and cut up into 1 inch pieces

zest of 3 lemons

2 tbsp heavy cream

First, in a saute pan place your egg yolks and sugar and wis together. Add in the lemon juice and salt and whisk again. Place the butter in the pan and place the pan over medium low heat.

Next, while constantly stirring your mixture with a silicone spatula you will notice your butter begin to melt and mix into your lemon curd. It should begin to thicken not long after the butter melts.

Then, once your mixture is thick and coats the back of your spatula it is done cooking. It should be quite thick and no longer liquid like. Remove the pan from the heat pour the mixture and though a fine mesh strainer and into a bowl. Stir in the lemon zest and the heavy cream.

Finally, place plastic wrap directly over the curd and refrigerate until completely chilled (about 2 hours). Can be stored in the refrigerator for up to a week.

Lemon Glaze

1 1/2 cup powder sugar

1/4 – 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice

zest of 1 lemon

In a bowl place your powdered sugar, and with a fork stir in a little bit of lemon juice at a time. It will start out really thick and as you add more lemon juice it will losses up.

You are looking for the glaze to be thick enough that you can spread it on the eclair without dripping off. If you feel it is too thick and you used all the lemon juice you can sub in a teaspoon of water at a time until you reach your desired consistency.

Once the desired consistency is reached you can stir in the lemon zest. It is best to use this mixture immediately as it thickens as it sits.

Eclair Assembly

1. With a sharp knife, slice your eclair shells (Pate Choux) in half length wise, be sure you still have a flat bottom on one half.

2. Fill some of your lemon curd and your pastry cream in separate pastry bags and set aside.

3. Line your bottom half of your eclair shells on a tray. With your lemon curd, pipe a bit of curd to fill the bottom half.

4. Repeat this with your pastry cream, piping it over the top of the lemon curd. You are looking for both the curd and the pastry cream to be in two even layers.

5. Spread the tops of each eclair shell with the lemon glaze and rest the tops over the filled bottom halves. Chill until ready to eat, and best is made no longer than 6 – 4 hours before serving…they will get soggy the longer they sit prepared. Best to keep chilled until ready to eat!

Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies

Quite some time ago I came across a recipe for buckwheat pancakes. I, of course; went out and bought the buckwheat flour to try it out. The pancakes were extremely good and have been my preferred recipe when I have a pancake and maple syrup craving!

My dad with my mom on there last visit to Seattle.

My dad with my mom on there last visit to Seattle.

I must admit that there was an underlining reason I was so happy that these pancakes were so good. This is because my father loves buckwheat pancakes. I envisioned that the next time they visited I will have them over for a buckwheat pancake brunch! Unfortunately, we have not had any brunch opportunities as of yet. But I am still waiting, and in the mean time I have this bag of buckwheat flour sitting there. Each and every time I open up the cabinet door it looks me in the eye and begs – “Please! Please! Make something with me!?!” I could hear it whisper – “I am good for so much more than just pancakes!”

Of course I started to look into many different types of recipes I could sub buckwheat flour into. Being the cookie monster I know I am it was only logical I start there. it was my thought that buckwheat’s earthy sweetness pairs perfectly with a deep chocolate flavor. A few recipes were tried before i realized how much I like this one: Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies. I made them and was smitten. Then I ate a few more the following day with a cup of tea; could it be they were even better? I did some research and discovered many others who tried cookie recipes said the same thing, the flavor of the buckwheat developed and mellowed out a bit the following day. The cookie became more crisp, deeper in chocolate flavor, and the earthiness of the buckwheat made the cookie overall less sweet and more satisfying.

Cookies cooling from the oven.

Cookies ready to go into the oven.

Fast forward to a couple of weeks ago. My father’s birthday was approaching and I asked him if there was anything he wanted. He responded with: cookies! When I asked what kind he said, “Any cookies you make, like the ones you use to make.” I was a bit baffled being I do and have made many, many cookies over time; but I knew any cookies I would make would be good in his opinion. (If there is anything my father and I share it would be our Cookie Monster tendencies.

So I whipped up a couple different kinds, along with the the Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies. I may not be able to have a pancake brunch yet with them being we are thousands of miles apart. But cookies… cookies always ship quite well, that is what my dad and I think at least. Great minds think alike…cookies and all. (Happy Birthday Dad! I hope you are enjoying your cookies.)

Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies...crispy and yummy!

Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies…crispy and yummy!

Chocolate Buckwheat Cocoa Nib Cookies (makes about 40 – 45 cookies)

1 1/4 cup of flour

3/4 cup buckwheat flour

1/3 cup unsweetened cocoa powder

10 oz butter (at room temp)

1/2 tsp of sea salt

2/3 cup sugar (plus more for sprinkling)

2 tsp vanilla extract

1/3 cup roasted cocoa nibs

Sea salt for Sprinkling (flaked sea salt is great for this, it is also a great time to try out flavored salts. I used an espresso salt, but plain old sea salt is just as good.)

First, whisk together both the flours, sea salt, and the cocoa powder. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Next, in the bowl of a standing mixer fitted with the paddle attachment place your butter and your sugar. Mix it together until it is light and fluffy. Add in the vanilla extract and mix it well. Once it is all combined well, slowly add the flour mixture. Mix it until it is combined and formed into one even dough.

Then, mix in the cocoa nibs and generously flour a smooth surface to roll out your dough. Roll the dough out with a rolling pin (generously flouring the dough too) until it is about 1/4 inch thick. *See note at bottom. Cut into desired shapes and place on a parchment lined baking sheet. Chill until firm.

Finally, once the dough is firm sprinkle the top of each cookie generously with the extra sugar. Pinch a bit of the extra sea salt in the center of each cookie dough. Place the baking shtiks in the oven for 10 – 14 minutes until they are set, but with a little give. Let them cool on a rack and wrap tightly in plastic until ready to eat. They are best if eaten within a week.

**NOTE: I find when rolling out any dough it is always best to roll the rolling pin in one direction only. rotate the dough 45 degrees and roll again. I keep repeating this process until I get the thickness needed in the dough, and flour it as needed. You will find that by doing this the dough sticks less to your work surface, and you end up with a more evenly rolled out dough.

Summer Chopped Salad

I think that if there was one thing I could make and eat until the end of time, it would be salad. Yes, if given the chance I will have a salad at each and every meal. I love them so much I think it is quite possible I was a rabbit in a past life!

All the ingredients chopped and ready.

All the ingredients chopped and ready.

Why do I love them so? I am not quite sure. Although let me clarify – I am not talking about a romaine lettuce salad at every meal. I tend to cook with the season, no matter what the season is, you can always match up what is fresh and ripe brilliantly in a salad! But the fun is in how you prepare and serve it together.

Salad plated and awaiting it's dressing.

Salad plated and awaiting it’s dressing.

The other day, with the heat of summer a salad was second nature. But I thought to myself…Chop! Chop it all! A chopped salad! Yes!!! A chopped salad is fun, festive, pretty to look at, and satisfyingly refreshing from your average tossed salad. So I gathered what I had picked up from the farmers market. I chopped them all and had each item organized for plating. To keep things cool and refreshing I whipped up a dill yogurt dressing to tie it together. On platting I lined up all the ingredients in neat rows, not plating two like colors next to each other; you’ll impress whomever you are sharing it with. Even if it is just for you, impress yourself! Treat yourself because you deserve a great and tasty salad like this one. Not to mention it is too perfect on those muggy summer nights!

Yougurt Dill Dressing over the Summer Chopped Salad and ready to be enjoyed!

Yougurt Dill Dressing over the Summer Chopped Salad and ready to be enjoyed!

Summer Chopped Salad (serves 4)  

1/2 bunch arugula, dried and washed well

1 can (15 oz) garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained

1 carrot, peeled and chopped small

1/2 – 1/4 cucumber, sliced

1/2 cup of quinoa, cooked

1/2 red bell pepper, diced

2/3 cup feta, crumbled

3 green onions, trimmed and chopped small

1/2 cup greek yogurt

1/4 cup olive oil

3 tbsp sherry vinegar

1/4 cup fresh dill, minced

sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

First, as you get all your ingredients together place them on separate plates and bowls as needed. set them up on your work space in order for your plating to go smoothly.

Next, in a bowl place your olive oil, yogurt,dill, and vinegar and whisk it all together. Season it with sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste and refrigerate until needed.

Finally, line up your plates and center your arugula in a row in the center of each. Follow with the garbanzos, and other veggies as you like. End each plate with the feta on one end and the green onions on the opposite.  Serve with your yogurt dressing to be spooned over. Mix as you enjoy it all!


Corn Lime Soup with Cumin Scented Tortilla Strips

There is something about soup that I cannot resist. Even in the summer, I wait for days that are a bit on the cooler side for a warm soup. Or, I make a chilled one! Either way, I hugely enjoy them no matter the temperature.

Corn Lime Soup

Corn Lime Soup

On a cooler summer evenings in Seattle a soup that is on the lighter side while being packed with flavor; that is what you want. Corn soup with cumin, lime, roasted bell peppers, and tortillas? Something like that is perfection. I first tried this recipe because it was one of Chef Sarah Moulton’s. Over time I have made it my own with little tweaks here and there. One thing I did learn from her though was that you can extract huge flavor if you place the corn cobs right into the soup as it simmers. Yes, very true and like a revolution to me in soup making way back when.

Carefully cutting the kernels from the cobs.

Carefully cutting the kernels from the cobs.

So the other day I saw fresh corn at the market, and the temperature only in the 70’s I knew I had to make this soup. I trimmed all the kernels from the ears, chopped veggies, roasted peppers, and made a salt / lime / cumin mix for the tortillas. While the soup simmered with the cobs in it, I fried up the tortillas. As I pureed and strained a bit of the soup, I also peeled the roasted bell peppers. As the soup was finishing, I stirred in the remainder of the corn kernels I reserved along with some fresh lime juice, roasted bell peppers, and minced jalapeno. It was all coming together, all the flavors were layered and waiting to be tasted. I ladled the soup into the bowls, we topped them with the seasoned tortillas and more fresh lime. It was light, warm, rich with corn, and an underlining spiciness. Perfection! Soup in the summer is fitting, especially if it is a corn one like this.

The Corn Lime Soup topped with the Cumin Lime Tortilla Strips.

The Corn Lime Soup topped with the Cumin Lime Tortilla Strips.

Corn Lime Soup with Cumin Scented Tortilla Strips (Serves 6)

*Note: I like this soup as is; but there are times I have garnished it with fresh cilantro and diced avocado as well.

10 ears of corn

3 cups chicken or veggie stock

2 tsp ground cumin, divided

2 onions (medium in size), chopped small

4 celery stalks, chopped small

1 tbsp butter

sea salt and fresh black pepper to taste

1 red or orange bell pepper

2 limes – 1 juiced and zested, the other sliced

Chive, chopped for garnish

6-8 corn tortilla cut into strips

vegetable oil for frying

First, take all the corn cobs and carefully cut the corn kernels from the cob. Reserve the cobs and about 1 – 1 1/2 cups of corn kernels. Place a large soup pot over medium heat. Melt your butter in the pot and add your onion, celery, and 1 tsp of the cumin. Stir it all together and let it simmer and sizzle until the onion becomes translucent. About 5 minutes.

Next, add all but the reserved corn and the broth. Along with this add as many of the cobs that will fit into the pot with out ti over flowing. Let it all come to a simmer for about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, roast your bell pepper in the boiler or on your burner (whatever you are comfortable with). Roast it until the skin is all blistery and charred and set aside to cool. Also, in a bowl stir together about 1 tsp of salt along with your lime zest and the other 1 tsp of ground cumin; and set it aside.By now, your soup should have simmered for the 15 minutes. Remove the corn cobs and discard them. With an immersion blender puree the soup. Strain about a 1/3 of it. Pressing on the solids to release all the liquid. Place the liquid back into the pot and discard the solids. Add your reserved corn to the soup, along with the jalapeño; and keep the soup over a very low flame to be sure it stays warm. Peel your bell pepper and roughly chop it into small pieces. State your soup and season as needed with you salt and pepper too at this point.

Then, in a pot pour in your vegetable oil. Heat it over medium heat and slowly add your tortilla strips. Fry them until golden and drain them on a paper towel lined plate. While still hot sprinkle with your salt / cumin / lime mixture and set aside.

Finally, stir in the chopped roasted bell pepper to the soup along with the lime juice you have reserved. Ladle the soup into the bowls and top it with the tortilla strips, chopped chives, and a lime slice along the side. Enjoy while warm.

Buttermilk Pie with Berries

I have to admit something. Up until I was in my early twenties, I believed that I disliked pie! Yes; in all truthfulness, I never came across a piece that I truly desired. Pies were also never something that commonly graced our dessert tables. If memory serves me right, there were two times my mother attempted to make a pie from scratch while I was growing up. She made a lemon meringue pie, and an apple pie. My mother is a fantastic cook, anyone who knows her will tell you that; but a baker she is not. I hope she is not offended by my writing this, but I have memories of her making the pies and none of me eating or tasting them.

The Martha Stewart "Pies & Tarts" book I adore. It is out of print but you can still find old ones online.

The Martha Stewart “Pies & Tarts” book I adore. It is out of print but you can still find old ones online.

To be honest though, the majority of pies I had encountered up until that point were purchased from a store, or baked fresh from a freezer section of your local supermarket. They always appeared to have gloopy fillings and the crust was always a bit on the soggy side. It wasn’t until a neighbor I had when I was first living on my own made a sweet potato pie that she insisted I come over and try. To be polite I accepted, and with in the first couple of bites I was weak in the knees. It was so well balanced because it was not too sweet, and the crust was tender. She thought me how to make the pie, and from then on I was on a pie mission. It wasn’t much longer after my pie euphoria that I came across a book from Martha Stewart appropriately entitled “Pies & Tarts” and purchased it. I have used it over and over again through the years. It thought me a ton and opened my eyes to the pie world. In many ways has become like a pie bible for me.

Pouring the Buttermilk Filling into the pie crust.

Pouring the Buttermilk Filling into the pie crust.

The other day we were going to a BBQ and I thought to myself: ‘What better to bring then a pie?” I walked over to my book shelves and pulled out my trusty Martha Stewart book. I flipped though the pages when I came across one of the recipes I alway wished I had tried but never got around to it- Buttermilk Pie. You make your pie dough as usual, whisk together a buttermilk custard, pour it into the shell and bake it. Sounds simple and straight forward. I imagined the buttermilk custard to have a sweet and lemony tang, and since berries are in great abundance right now I felt it was perfect to top the pie with some supper ripe ones.

The Buttermilk Pies cooling out of the oven. (Okay I admit it, I made two pies. One for the BBQ and one for us!)

The Buttermilk Pies cooling out of the oven. (Okay I admit it, I made two pies. One for the BBQ and one for us!)

So the evening before the BBQ I rolled out the pie dough, and chilled it until it was set. I made a nice border out of the crust with a circle cutter because I cannot sit still in the kitchen and I thought that with the berry filling it would somewhat look like an blossom when it was all done. I whisked the buttermilk filling together, poured it into the crust, and baked it off. It smelled mellowly sweet and buttery. I let it chill overnight and in the morning I went to the market to pick up the berries. I am sure that any berries would be great with this; but I asked the vendor what is at it’s peek and they pointed me in the direction blackberries, blueberries, and golden raspberries. After washing and drying the berries I piled them onto the center of the buttermilk pie. The pie looked beautiful and it got a tone of compliments. I will admit that it tasted wonderfully. The ripely sweet berries played nicely with the lemon tang of the buttermilk custard. It was lightly rich in flavor and in a whole they were a match made in heaven. I cannot believe I have not tried this pie until now. I really enjoy a good pie!

Buttermilk Pie with Fresh Seasonal Berries

Buttermilk Pie with Fresh Seasonal Berries

Buttermilk Pie with Berries (makes one 8-9 inch pie)

1 recipe of Pate Brisee

1 1/4 cups sugar

3 tbsp flour

4 eggs, beaten

1/2 cup melted butter, and slightly cooled

1 cup buttermilk

zest of 1 lemon

1 tbsp lemon juice

1 tsp vanilla extract

1/4 tsp freshly grated nutmeg

4-6 pints of berries, depending on their size

First, roll out your pate brisee to about 1/2 – 1/4 inch thick in a circumference large enough to fit your pie pan. Gently lift your dough and lay it into your pan. With a sharp knife trim the edges overhanging. You can gently crimp the urging with your fingers. Or you can use a 1-2 inch circle cutter to cut out the remainder of the dough, pressing each one into the crust, while gently letting them overlap. Place the prepped pie crust into the refrigerator or freezer until it is firm and set (at least 1 hour).

Next, preheat your oven to 425 degrees. In a large bowl combine the sugar and flour. add in the eggs and whisk it all together. To this add in the melted butter, buttermilk, lemon juice, zest, vanilla, and nutmeg. Whisk it all together to combine it evenly.

Then, place your prepped pie plate on a baking sheet. Pour the prepared filling into the crust, and place it in the center of the oven. Bake it for about 30 – 45 minutes. You are looking for the filling to be slightly golden and set when giggled. Remove from the oven and cool. can be refrigerated for a day until serving.

Meanwhile, wash your berries gently. Lay them out on a kitchen towel to it dry until ready.

Finally, when ready pile the berries into the center of the baked pie. Let them fall naturally about to fill your pie. Leave room temperature for at least an hour before serving. Can be held out for a few hours, but refrigerate if there are leftovers. But do not hold for longer than three days, or the berries will lose their luster.


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